The Transformer

CHICAGO–Barack Obama got out of the car a block early so everyone would see him walk to the picket line.

With a gray BlackBerry holstered between black pants and white dress shirt, the candidate immediately inserted himself into the rotating loop of striking hotel workers on Michigan Avenue. He shook hands, slapped backs and sang some lines of a pro-union chant. One worker handed him a “Unite Here!” placard, and he happily waved it above his head. Minutes later, as more than a dozen television cameras and reporters watched intently, he traded it in for a bullhorn.

“You are going to have a friend in the White House who believes that workers can organize,” Mr. Obama shouted to the workers. “Who believes in union.”

The crowd cheered, and after a Spanish translation, cheered again.

With more primary money in the bank than fund-raising juggernaut Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama has now set about the more fundamental business of cementing the loyalty of the Democratic Party base. The $33 million he raised in the second fund-raising quarter from a record 258,000 individual donors gives him fuel to chase Mrs. Clinton and begin to close the sizeable leads she holds in surveys of many key primary states. But to do that, he needs the backing of organized Democratic constituencies whose can translate their support into votes.

“I think some of it is that the campaign is starting to heat up so you are starting to see more events like this,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference following the union event on July 16. “What is true is that in the first two or three months you are so busy building infrastructure that sometimes your schedule gets much more crowded. And we are now in the phase of the campaign where people are listening much more carefully and we have the opportunity to amplify these critical issues.”

Those critical issues—unionization, gun control, civil rights, progressive taxation and abortion rights—just happen to be the traditional linchpins of Democratic politics. And Mr. Obama, who likes to say that he believes in a different kind of politics, is tackling them aggressively.

On July 12, he co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to close a tax loophole that permitted hedge fund investors, who happen to be some of the most generous contributors to his campaign, to pay levies on billions of dollars in profit at a lower rate than most income earners. The issue, which was first raised by John Edwards, put pressure on the rest of a Democratic field that enjoys lucrative support from the wealthy financiers. On July 13, after originally giving a noncommittal answer, Mrs. Clinton also said she supported taxing the investors like regular corporations.

“I think it should be a no-brainer issue for Democratic and Republican candidates,” Mr. Obama told The Observer this week when asked why not everyone had jumped on the issue immediately. “The way our tax code is now structured has exacerbated inequality in the society.”

Mr. Obama’s emphasis on traditional base-consolidation was illustrated nicely by a flurry of events aimed at key Democratic constituencies this week.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Obama’s motorcade arrived at the Vernon Park Church of God in the beleaguered Far South Side of Chicago. In the blocks around the church, bored-looking boys walked around with jeans cinched around their thighs under long white T-shirts. A woman in a wheelchair propelled herself against a red traffic light using her one good foot like a skateboarder. Abandoned lots surrounded empty restaurants with names like “Steaks and Lemonade.” Here, gun violence had touched many residents personally, including the church’s own pastor, whose mother and brother were murdered.

Mr. Obama had come to express outrage, as he uniquely can in this election, about the pall of gang violence that hangs over many black communities. Before speaking, he sat in a dark suit and blue striped tie under one of two large screens that said “Responsive Reading. Benefit of Obedience.” He bobbed his head as a gospel choir sang to the organ and drums. When he was introduced to speak, the crowd erupted in cheers and hoots and the padded clapping of ushers in white gloves.

The Transformer